How does a society react when the son of a god comes to town?
This is the issue that the citizens of Thebes must deal with in “The Followers,” written by Kennesaw State University professor Margaret Baldwin.
New plays like “The Followers” are often workshopped many times before the final product is marketed professionally for an audience. Through a collaboration of 7 Stages theatre company and Kennesaw State’s Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, three workshop performances of the play were held in the Onyx Theater Nov. 1-3.
Being a workshop performance, the content of the show was constantly changing, with the actors getting new dialogue and choreography almost daily throughout the three-week rehearsal process.
Baldwin’s play is based on Euripides’ Greek tragedy, “The Bacchae.” The god Dionysus is the son of Zeus and the mortal woman Semele, daughter of one of Thebes’ great families. In “The Bacchae,” Dionysus returns to Thebes to take revenge on his mother’s family for the harsh treatment she received at their hands.
The plot of “The Followers” is the same as “The Bacchae” and uses many of the traditions of Greek tragedy. “The Bacchae” starts when Dionysus arrives in Thebes as an adult, but Baldwin’s version begins with a flashback to Dionysus’s conception, showing the relationship between Zeus and Semele.
In some aspects, “The Followers” is modernized compared to the original tragedy. Pentheus, Dionysus’s cousin whom he ultimately has killed, develops an electrical, futuristic security system which uses some kind of artificial intelligence.
The production at KSU incorporated masks, however, and pays homage to the traditions of Greek theater. It also used a traditional Greek chorus, which often communicated with the audience through song and dance.
The show was quite dance-heavy. It was choreographed by Nahari and Eric Thurmond. The dance aspect of the show was integral to the plot, and though the students in the cast were exclusively theater majors, the actors effectively told much of the story through dance and choreographed movement.
Another unique aspect of the show was that, on the Thursday performance, a guest artist appeared in the role of Dionysus. Ofir Nahari is an Israeli performer who has performed professionally in film, television and theater in Israel.
He is currently staying in Atlanta, helping to workshop “The Followers” and touring his own solo performance piece, “No(se)onenowhere,” at the 7 Stages Theatre in Atlanta. In addition to his performance in the role of Dionysus, Nahari also helped to compose the music and choreograph the piece.
Baldwin has done an excellent job in drafting a play that tackles many hot-button issues, such as the line between religion and fanaticism and the conflict between religion and scientific progress.
The show has a great balance between many conflicting themes. While it is obviously a drama, the more eccentric characters successfully bring comedic aspects to the story. The contrast between the modern and the ancient actually added to the story and didn’t come across as confusing. The inclusion of modern technology with a few other references to modern inventions made the story more relatable to an audience comprised mostly of college students.
“The Followers” is early in its life, and many aspects of the show are still changing, but audiences can look forward to seeing a more completed version of the play at 7 Stages Theatre sometime in 2017.